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Homeowner Killed After Police Mistake Him For Suspect

An Idaho Falls police officer is under investigation after shooting and killing a homeowner early Monday morning after mistaking the man for a suspect who was wanted on a pair of warrants.

Idaho Falls police chief Bryce Johnson called the situation “quite tragic” while releasing details of the shooting on Tuesday, adding, “sometimes everyone does what they think is right and tragedy happens.”

According to the chief, officers were pursuing suspect who was wanted for felony battery on an officer. The suspect had fled a traffic stop, but police were able to track him via GPS to a home in the city.

When police arrived at the suspect’s reported location, they found a man in a black shirt with a gun, similar to the description of the suspect. Johnson said officers instructed the man to drop the gun.

Johnson said it’s unclear what happened then, but an officer shot and killed the man. Police then learned he was not a suspect, but a resident at the home.

The officer has been placed on paid administrative leave as the incident is investigated by the Eastern Idaho Critical Incident Task Force. Johnson said Idaho State Police will take the lead on the investigation.

Johnson did not name the officer involved in the shooting, the man who was shot or the suspect police were originally pursuing. He said the task force asked that the names of the officer and the suspect be withheld while they are questioned as part of the investigation. The family of the deceased asked that his name not be released.

The suspect, meanwhile, was found in a shed on a nearby property a short time after the shooting. While a witness claimed the suspect had a gun before he fled the traffic stop, Johnson hasn’t said whether or not the suspect was armed when he was apprehended.

“There are not words to express how heavy our hearts are today,” Johnson said. “This situation is devastatingly tragic for the family, for the officer, and those that love and care about them. We all feel the weight of what has occurred today. Our sincere sympathies are with the family and friends of those involved, most especially the family of the deceased.”

According to Johnson, body camera footage captured the shooting of the homeowner, which should help investigators determine what happened in the moments before the officer fired the fatal shots. There are a number of unanswered questions at the moment, including how long the officer gave the man to drop his firearm before he used his own gun and whether the homeowner had a chance to identify himself to officers before he was shot..

This is obviously a tragedy. The question now is whether or not it was avoidable. The homeowner was on his property, and likely was armed because of the large police presence in his neighborhood. I will say that given the fact this took place in Idaho Falls and not, say, Berkeley, California, officers should have been aware of the distinct possibility that homeowners in the area might have been armed for their own protection in addition to the reports of the suspect having a gun.

The Idaho State Police is the agency taking the lead in investigating the shooting, but so far there’s been no word about when the bodycam footage might be released to the public. It’s too early at this point to know if the responding officers or the armed citizen could have done anything differently to avoid this tragic outcome, but hopefully we’ll soon have answers to some of the unresolved questions about this case and the family of the deceased can find the justice that they’re looking for.

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Jul 27, 2021 12:30 PM ET